As Christina Epps soared through the air during her first jump at the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships in June, something about it felt different. It was, as her 14.09-meter jump marked the best of her career, proving enough to claim the triple jump national championship.
A track-and-field standout at Coppin State from 2010-14, Epps, 24, has been a part of three senior teams this summer. She has also competed at the Pan American Games and the NACAC Senior Championships. When she's not competing on the track, Epps works as an academic counselor at Coppin.
After graduating from Coppin as the triple-jump record holder, Epps has continued to excel on the track. Her victory at the
USATF Outdoor Championships earned her an invitation to the International Association of Athletics Federation World Championships, which was held Aug. 22-30 in Beijing, China.
"It was a surreal experience," Epps said of her USATF championships performance. "[My coach] didn't see any reason why I couldn't do it and couldn't be the best of the U.S. But I just had to believe in myself and see it for myself, and when I jumped that first jump, it solidified everything."
Even before the leap was measured, Epps knew she had done something special, finally reaching the 14-meter goal she had set for herself in 2015.
"I feel it right when I land in the pit when it's something good," Epps said. "It's just kind of like an instinct. I don't know how to describe it, but that 14-meter jump for me was on cloud nine. It just felt like I was floating. ... There's a hop, and then there's a step -- I knew from my step that it was going to be a big jump for me."
There was a time, though, that these sorts of jumps felt out of reach for Epps -- after she tore her ACL in 2012. Three years later and nearly two meters tacked on to her career best, Epps called the injury "a blessing in disguise."
"I started working 10 times harder, because I realized then that I was behind the eight ball on everyone else, and I couldn't just blow off my talent, because I've got a slight disadvantage now."
Not thinking she'd ever even jump 13 meters after the injury, Epps accomplished that for the first time in February 2014 at Coppin State. That same year, she closed out her college career with her third outdoor Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference triple jump title.
She was also named the 2014 MEAC Woman of the Year and a top 30 finalist for the NCAA Woman of the Year Award, feats she said she couldn't have accomplished without her coach, mentor and "mother figure," Alecia Shields-Gadson.
"She believes in me so much that you can't help but believe in yourself just as much as she does," Epps said.
The New Jersey native outdid herself with the USATF title, but becoming the best triple jumper in the country was just the beginning of a busy summer.
Epps traveled to Toronto in July for the Pan American Games -- her first international competition -- finishing seventh overall with her best jump of 13.85 meters. Epps originally thought she needed a mark of 14.20 meters to qualify for the IAAF World Championships in Beijing. However, she was still invited to compete in China by the IAAF because Epps was among the top 32 triple jumpers in the world.
Coming into the late-August meet compromised with a bone bruise on her knee – which she suffered in the North American, Central American and Caribbean Athletics Association Senior Area Championships earlier that month -- Epps fell short of qualifying for the IAAF semifinals with a jump of 13.36 meters.
"I tried not to put a lot of pressure on myself as the only American triple jumper there, but I did," Epps said. "I just felt the need to represent [the U.S.] in the women's triple jump in a way we could actually be noticed for once."
Though unable to tally the result she wanted in China, her accomplishments this summer have brought new goals to mind, like reaching the coveted 14.20-meter mark to make the IAAF World Championships again and qualify for the Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro next year.
"Being at the meet this year, I fell short, and watching the finals of this track meet just made me see that I can do it," said Epps, who will continue competing with the Adidas Garden State Track Club. "I just have to tweak a few things and work a little harder than I have been, because it's a different level. I'm definitely hungrier and ready for 2016."